Jamaica Year in Review 2007

Lest We Forget
`A Year of Significant Milestones’ is how journalist Michael Burke headed up his list of reminders in The Sunday Observer in January to Jamaicans at home and in the Diaspora. And indeed most new events this year seemed to have paled in significance when compared to anniversary events such as the first Local Government Election held in 1947, the Bicentennial of the Abolition of Slavery from Africa to the West, and the 120th Anniversary of the birth of Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jamaica’s first national hero, born on August 17, 1887.

Seventy years ago in 1937, Norman Washington Manley, who co-founded the People’s National Party (PNP) a year later, established The Jamaica Welfare to aid in community, co-ops, craft and skills development. That important body is today the Social Welfare Commission which, with the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC), is the main repository, facilitator and nurturer of the visual and performing arts in the island.

It is also fifty years since malaria was eradicated from Jamaica, although the World Health Organization did not declare the country malaria free until four years later. Unfortunately malaria returned to Jamaica this year with the help of human intervention. Chief Medical Officer Dr. Marion Bullock-DuCasse led public education and reversal campaigns to curtail the spread by the female anopheles mosquito. Later on, the deadly dengue fever also made a comeback with the appearance of the aedes aegypti mosquito aided by the settlement of water after excessive rains.

This significant Anniversary was widely celebrated as the year progressed. It should be noted that although the Slave Trade was declared an illegal act in 1807, it was not fully effected until 1836, and that it was the start of the Emancipation process in 1838 that led to the island’s political Independence in 1962. It should not be surprising that in 2007 with wider awareness the contentious ‘bone’ of Reparation would have been wielded around the world more vigorously and with wider impact than the biblical jawbone.

Great Britain itself had little choice than to recognise the event in a way that would avoid widespread criticism. Both the Archbishop of Canterbury representing the Church and then Prime Minister Tony Blair representing the Monarchy forwarded appropriate-sounding apologies to the West just, perhaps advisedly, before the heat of the Summer Solstice began to take effect.

Visit of John Sentamu
In early October, the first black man to become Anglican Archbishop for York, Primate of England, the Most Reverend and Rt. Honourable John Sentamu, paid a first visit to Jamaica where he voiced more than a mere echo of those British sentiments which had come from deep-rooted English sensibilities. Speaking as chief celebrant at a Eucharistic observance of the Bi-centenary of the 137th Synod at the National Arena in Kingston, he took time out to acknowledge that as a member of the Church of England, he found “no problem in offering an apology, without hesitation, for its participation in this heinous Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade as well as many a chief in Africa who sold my brothers and sisters as slaves”. Sentamu’s ready wit, passionate presentation of the Gospel and compelling presence were noted. The affable drum-playing priest was hailed as having an unpretentious demeanour at a time when the Anglican Church was still being thought of as dull, or even “in danger of schism”. A few telling lines from his sermon later reproduced in The Special Edition of The Anglican, a publication of the Diocese of Jamaica and The Cayman Islands Volume 4, speak to all: ”God is calling each one of you to loiter with intent at a crossroad where human need and Divine Love meet”, and “… slaves in these islands, who 200 years ago were treated as criminals and were hanged for making the heinous system of slavery not work, knew they were called to freedom…did light a torch that galvanised…the campaign which indeed went into its abolition”.

The UWI conferred on him the Honorary Doctor of Laws degree the day after he arrived in the island by Air Jamaica.

A series of planned visits to regional outposts included the historic Cathedral of St. Jago de la Vega and the Spanish Town Square. He and his wife Margaret were presented everywhere to civic leaders, church army captains, school groups who entertained and participated in q and a sessions. The gift of a small mortar and pestle of the native lignum vitae wood and a document explaining the botanical history, were of some significance, since the Archbishop had just been asked to plant one at Church House in Kingston.

To its credit, Jamaica formed a National commemorative and monitoring body chaired and ‘shepherded’ by the charmingly affable and able Professor Verene Shepherd of the UWI. Early in the proceedings, an appropriate opening ceremony at Emancipation Park featured African drummers and a slew of performers. The main address was by none other than the eminent Professor Chinua Achebe, one of Nigeria’s literary giants and ambassadors. Among the achievements of the national committee have been: the identification of a landing site in Kingston Harbour; the setting up of commemorative monuments at appropriate points across the island; lectures at home and abroad (including an invitation from Nigeria); and exhibitions and cultural presentations in the arts and culture

The year began with news of the sad passing of media ‘greats’ Neville Willoughby, popularly known as ‘Uncle Neville’, and of Charles Hyatt, a consummate artiste of stage, film, radio and television trained locally and at the BBC. Both men had given more than 60 years of combined professional service to their country, and as such will be greatly missed for years to come. Jounalist Clifton Neita and artist Colin Garland also passed on. In August Archdeacon Emeritus E. L. Maxwell died at the age of 104. His 42 years of service made him the oldest priest in the Anglican Diocese. Come November, one of the world’s greatest athletes, Herbert McKinley, yielded his reign of excellence. His life was hailed by past and present Prime Ministers, Calabar High School his alma mater, all sporting concerns, and by local and overseas dignitaries. Prime Minister Bruce Golding indicated that a special monument befitting his status and contribution would be erected soon.

Journalist Mark Wignall made an ambitious attempt to set a predictive tone when he wrote in The Observer on the last day of the year 2006 ‘What Jamaicans want for 2007’. He began in his usual dramatic, outspoken, take-it-or-leave-it John Maxwell style: ‘Less of the politics, more of the performance and very little of the violent crime which would give Jamaicans here and abroad a smile, a laugh and a proclamation that hope is alive and well on the rock’. To his credit, Wignall also warned politicians that it was not enough to perform only before an election. Jamaicans would have to possess an unusual amount of perseverance if a government’s role were as ‘predator rather than facilitator’. If a government is to be more interested in the people rather than the welfare of the party, it would have to provide jobs, security, good roads, house ownership, better education and protection for children—in short, he concluded, less of the politics and more leadership.

At year end, his words proved prophetic.

The political scene was one of upheaval, one in which Jamaica, not unlike St. Lucia, ‘changed course’ somewhat unexpectedly.

Yet it can be said that 2007, like 2006 was again the year of Portia Simpson Miller, because she came within the closest striking distance of becoming the first female Prime Minister in the island and the second in the West Indies after Dame Eugenia Charles of Dominica. In 2006 Portia had assumed the role of Prime Minister-Designate when Prime Minister P.J. Patterson demitted office after the People’s National Party had been in the saddle for all of seventeen years. Portia had seventeen months in office to consolidate a mandate through the general election, the date of which was set and announced for the seventh day of the seventh month of the year two thousand and seven, or be relegated – in short shrift – to the ranks of the Opposition. But `Lucretia’ would never be finally laurelled by `Octavius’ the representative of the Crown, Governor-General Sir Kenneth Hall.

Bruce Golding had also waited seventeen years, as Seaga’s former Deputy, as leader of both the National Democratic Movement and the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), until the election date was set and fulfilled. Victory was reluctantly conceded to his majority. Thus did 2007 also become the Year of The Bruce. Not Robert The Bruce of Scotland, but Orrette The Bruce of Jamaica!

Elections in Jamaica have a way of revealing long hidden ‘birth-paper’ names as opposed to ‘Yard’ names, and so Orrette was the name revealed to the Jamaican electorate only on Election Day, September 3, when the young squire of Ye Olde Harboure, waving the green bells and bushes in the footsteps of his honourable father, the also Latinate Tacius, wrested all orange buntings and other paraphernalia from `Lucretia`, wife of The Miller. In the aftermath of the so-called War of the Ads waged by The Bruce, ‘Team Portia’ and her hitherto untried sect of druidic Phinns (who had predicted a sure victory when all the Sevens met), were forced into retreat mode. The battle some say, was lost, though Portia did not think so. Some say a wrathful god intervened and threw a category four hurricane named Dean (no relation to Marco Dean, son of Beenie and the Angel) into the mix. Others cited chastisement for the untoward appearance of the Abeng (sacred horn to the island’s Maroons) on her political platform, and without ecclesiastical approval at that! “Sacred Horn Tarnished at Political Rally” screamed the front-page headline of The Star, the island’s evening newspaper of September 13, and the photographs and vox pop in-your-face interviews were there as proof.

The official Election date had been set for the fate-filled July 27th, the seventh month of the year 2007, where all sevens would meet only once. But fate was unkind. Nature took its course. The gods will persist in killing wanton boys for their sport. Call it what you will, quote any writer, but hurricane Dean intervened in the affairs of men on August 18 and rescheduled the momentous event out of the realm of the sevens and into that of the threes. In the preliminary count on September 3 the JLP defeated the PNP 31 seats to 29. There arose to the heavens vociferous requests for magisterial recounts in at least three constituencies after it was observed and pontificated on that not all boxes were counted. The Electoral Office moguls Messrs Miller and Walker were seemingly brought to their knees as they watched their carefully packed boxes of apples overturn. D.K. Duncan’s starring role in the West did not go unnoticed. The final count widened the JLP lead of 33 to 27 and the two (Pandora) boxes caused hastily convened court decisions on holders of dual passports who had not so declared. Selah.

The new Prime Minister was inaugurated into office by Governor General Sir Kenneth Hall at the National Sports Arena instead of King’s House (yet another departure from custom) on October 7 (at least one seven reclaimed) with due honours and fanfare.

It was soon widely felt that in the first much-touted 100 Days the Bruce began his tenure under a self-generated fire. On the hustings he had announced free education ‘come September mawnin’ ‘ below the tertiary level, a process found to be honoured more in rhetoric than in actual execution. Portia had also announced free health care below the tertiary level so to speak, a process which the health sector found more daunting than contributory to improved health. The new Cabinet also caused early hiccups for two immediate reasons: one, its size turned out to be larger than promised, and two, several of its members were found to be holders of a certain American card which happened to be the colour of unripe fruits. The Director of Elections whose reputation was supposed to be squeaky clean fell into the ‘card’ Sargasso before yearend.

Long overdue Local Government Elections took place shortly after, with the PNP having a better showing than 2003 by winning in Manchester and Hanover. The biggest surprise was that Keith Hinds came from behind to beat the popular and innovative mayor George Lee. No surprise resided in the victory of Mayor Desmond McKenzie in the KSAC. He had already made an indelible mark on ‘getting the job done’ despite political affiliations.

In the Light of Scandals
The new Administration claimed the unearthing, in October, of what has been dubbed the Cuban Light Bulb scandal involving the ‘babies’ of the party, (former) Minister of Energy Philip Paulwell and his (former) Minister of State, Kern Spencer. The youthful one, characteristic to the nickname bestowed, succumbed to tears at the revelation that up to $281m of a possible $300m dollars have been misappropriated. The Gleaner’s editorial cartoonist Clovis had a field day portraying them as wet-faced babies seated in wet nappies on wet floors, especially since several ‘scandals’ have dogged the PNP mainly in the run-up to, but also shortly after, the Election, including the earlier Trafigura Beheer debacle said to involve approximately $31 million, with fingers pointing at then Minister of Communications Campbell, was Now Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller was called upon in the House of Parliament to give account of the monstrous cost factor attributed to the joint energy-saving project in which 4 million fluorescent light bulbs were donated to Jamaicans in 2006, and how the attendant personnel from Cuba were accommodated. Mrs Miller stated that she gave the task to Paulwell who should give an account in two weeks from the date; He in turn said he gave Spencer authority to deal with it. New Energy Minister Clive Mullings revealed that not only had more than $117m been ‘misspent’ up to the time, but that the Cuban Embassy in Kingston had paid stipends to their Cuban volunteers, some had been housed in government boarding institutions like G. C. Foster College of Physical Education. A company established under the ambitious ‘moniker’ of Universal Management and Development, with Sherine Shakes, mother of Kern Spencer’s child as manager, was said to have been awarded $85.6m for monitoring the distribution process. (The Sunday Herald headline November 11, 2007). By mid-November and early December both had tendered their resignation but not before loudly proclaiming their innocence: ’My Hands Are Clean’. The words of D.K. Duncan came back to haunt Paulwell the perpetrator of the Netserv scandal: he should by now have done the honourable thing and tendered his resignation from Cabinet.

In mid-November another aspect of the Light Bulbs came into focus, i.e. their attraction to carbon credits. The Sunday Observer cited a “highly placed industry player” who spoke anonymously on the matter of a proposed $160m earnings from the Kyoto Protocol – Marrakesh Accord agreement signed in international style on Carbon Credit contracts. The contract had by then been won by a Canadian firm after a second round of bidding. The contractor is then expected to obtain accreditation under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change; assess and certify the carbon credits earned (annually) by the Project as a result of the change from incandescent to fluorescent bulbs; and seek the best returns. This proposed sale of carbon credits was supposed to reimburse the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica on the government’s behalf. The former Government had earlier earned $39m in the sale of credits via the Netherlands on the Wigton Wind Farm in Manchester. It is deemed that Spencer hoped to enjoy that privilege in the six-month frame set by him, on the basis that ‘country operators’ who have not used up their quotas on emission of greenhouse gases, would sell their unused allowances as carbon credits.

Crime and Security
The year began with 149 murders among civilians and ended with the highest number of police officers, 19, slain in the line of duty. Instead of falling after election when a new Minister of Security took over, the number of murders rose to 1,500 near year-end, marking the latter half of the year as crucial. Citing personal reasons ‘Luscious’ Commissioner Lucius Thomas left his post in October with a year of service to go. Under objections to the selection process from the Police Federation, recently retired head of the JDF Rear Admiral Hardley Lewin was given the nod by the new Government, to lead the force into a renewed fight against crime and violence caused by guns which have their origin in America and Haiti.

And Jamaica remains on the list of major transit and drug producing countries because of its penchant for cultivation and its strategic position in air and ship routes.

Air Jamaica
As early as May there was talk of a ‘scaling down’ air service on the London to Kingston route creating a concern among a disgruntled section of the Jamaican community and London-based travel agents alike. There was also talk of a possible sale of the route to British Airways or Virgin Atlantic, which recently began operating to Montego Bay. Among suggested reasons were increased fuel bills; competition on the Kingston to London route; additional competition from other airlines; huge financial losses; and lack of prior consultation with stakeholders. In 2006 comments by Finance Minister Davies to members of the Jamaican community there, Government had devised `clear strategies’ for continued operations and to save a minimum of US$ 40m, including re-fleeting.

Cayman Seeks Closure
In February, the plight of Jamaican migrant workers in the Cayman Islands was aired under allegations which included: unfair employment practices such as lower than contracted wages which hit remittance expectations where it hurt most; the revocation of paid-up permits; lack of clarity concerning labour rights; higher than normal cost of minimal accommodation; physical abuse, and possible victimisation of children. It was thought that visa requirements also brought anti-Jamaican sentiments out in the open. An estimated 11,000 Jamaicans make up 22% of the population in the former British colony, which formerly depended most on Jamaica for trained and experienced personnel, and for training facilities for nurses and teachers in particular. Observation and research material were supplied by clergy, independent newspaper columnists, human rights activists and the Honorary Consul to the republic.

Alternative Investment Schemes
2007 was also the year when the Government’s Financial Services Commission (FSC) found itself believing that prevention is better than having to bail out a failed banking sector as it did with Century National in the 90s. It began to stage public information fora at selected venues and to post warnings couched in the lingo of ‘ads’. Rumours that were at first vigorously denied eventually developed into scandals. NCB and Scotia not only refused to honour cheques issued by Cash Plus but threatened to fire employees involved in them. Whispering behind the hand grew to outright name-calling and street demos. The front page of the Sunday Gleaner of December 2 for instance eventually listed 20-odd such schemes with the rider that most were ‘unregistered entities’. Battle with government watchdogs both in and out of court ensued. As far back as August, concern had been raised publicly about what was dubbed “a proliferation of alternative investment schemes”. Olint, run by David Smith had traded on the international currency market, which is said to offer higher returns in US dollars than the 7 or 8 percentage returns available in the local ‘regulated’ institutions. Threatened with closure, he had been obliged to transfer operations to the Turks and Caicos but raised enough support to set up a Foundation which was launched of all places, at the UWI, in November, with obvious support from Dominica.

The Cash Plus debacle yielded negative reaction from contributors towards the banks and a supportive stance for the chief organiser whose picture and name for the first time, appeared in the press. Vox populi opined that although untimely forays into real estate could have contributed, the banks were unjustified and unfair in their lack of support. Government’s concern obviously seems more about the obvious decline of the formal economy than the spectre of another bout of ‘capital flight’ from the island as in the 70s of Manley. The new minister of Finance Audley Shaw for instance speaks about the ‘challenge’ posited by this ‘dramatic’ and unprecedented growth in the informal sector, a situation which has placed it at 40%. His tentative hope seems to reside in a vague ‘partnership for progress’. On December 29 the FSC issued cease-and-desist orders on Cash Plus, its CEO Carlos Hill and Kahlil Harris.

`Hurry Cane’
Sugarcane was not included, blown away by the negotiators. CARICOM interests recently brokered a ‘historic’ deal through the European Commission, in which the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) finally agreed to give first-ever access, both duty-free and quota-free, to Caribbean goods, come January.

The three and a half year-long negotiations that have been described as ‘arduous and intense’ (Daily Observer December 17 headline), were concluded at the Barbados Hilton December 16. It included goods and (breakthrough) cultural services like the Performing Arts, and excluded rice, on the same temporary basis as sugar until 2010. The CARIFORUM group (with the Dominican Republic) as it is called, was also the first of the six regions of the ACP to achieve this arrangement from the EU through its executive arm. But perhaps the most significant breach was the concession gained for Haiti and the Bahamas to access the protocol soon, on fulfilment of relevant requirements.

The hurricane season came and went with its usual unpredictable stance, confounding projections of a ‘busy season’, with Dean being the significant one of a predicted 20-odd hurricanes. It made landfall in the summer, destroying several homes island wide and causing flooding in some areas. One thousand shelters had been put in place by the administration for persons who had to vacate their homes and communities. One main point noted was that the impact was not as devastating as expected because the monster downgraded itself from a category five. This has become a recurrent blessing to the island whenever the eye of the hurricane passes over the south and western parts of the country.

Tropical storm Noel arrived with flash flood warnings at the beginning of November when a persistent upper level trough positioned itself across the central Caribbean, affecting fishermen and other marine interests. The parish of St Thomas suffered most, losing houses, bridges, roads and arable land.

Olga was the lone female which passed early December with a whimper of drizzles and gusts of cool air which had Jamaicans typically laughing at themselves by mouthing well-worn phrases such as ‘Jamaican winter deh ya’, ‘blenkit time cum’, ’Chrismus breeze a-blow’ and ‘fire deh a muss-muss tail ‘im tink a cool breeze’.

In genera,l sports were very exciting for the island in 2007. Specific sports such as athletics, cricket, football and netball presented a see-saw situation with on-again, off-again commendable performances and results. To begin with, Jamaica was one of the host countries of the International Cricket Council (ICC) Cricket World Cup (CWC) which, according to a consensus of opinion, did not really benefit from the experience.

The possibilities had seemed endless when the island was awarded the ‘yellow package’ from as far back as July 2004. The yellow package meant, being allowed to host five warm-up matches, the opening ceremony of March 11, 2007, six preliminary-round games and one semi-final. Under an agreement with the Chinese government, construction of a new stadium began at the Greenfield venue in Trelawny, while renovations were initiated at world-famous Sabina Park in Kingston for hosting the event. Over US $60m was said to have been spent, with rumours of massive unreported cost over-runs and US $2m maintenance costs provided by govt, making the rounds. CWC’s West Indies Chief Executive Officer Chris Dehring concluded that the revenue was double that of the last WC in South Africa.

Under criticism, Dehring maintained that regional organisers had done enough to ‘ensure’ (a risqué and politically maltreated word if ever there was one) that the event remained desirable and respected, for their sponsors. The Sunday Herald reported that some multinational companies such as LG Electronics, Pepsi and Hero Honda were getting set to end their seven-year association with the ICC after the World Cup as a result of the “non-realisation of expected exposure” and the loss of their biggest target markets in India and Pakistan. (Sunday, April 8-14, 2007)

After Pakistan lost to ‘winnows’ Ireland, noted coach of the South Africa team Bob Woolmer was pronounced dead at the University Hospital of the West Indies at 12:14 p.m. on March 18, 2007 after being found in his hotel room by a female hotel attendant. Allegations swirled around possible reasons for his untimely demise including a poison known in eastern countries, strangulation, or both. Not until the dying moments of November was the case, still inconclusive, considered to be satisfactorily aerated.

Athletics and Track and Field dominated the news however, especially when Asafa Powell broke his own record of 9.77. The world’s fastest man, nicknamed Superman did not quite outshine his nemesis Robin, if there was one in the person of American Tyson Gay. There was high expectation from the fans both in Jamaica and abroad that Asafa would win the anchor leg of the Men’s 4x100m relay final in Osaka, Japan, but there was alleged mishandling of the baton exchange. Reportedly receiving the baton fourth, he ended up finishing in third place for the bronze. Yet, in competition the following week, Asafa broke his own previous world record to run 9.74 at the Rieti, Italy Grand Prix in September, and also the record set by Tyson Gay that year.

Usain Bolt, who had burst on the scene at age 15, got another chance at re-instating himself by winning in the 4×100 relay, the 100m and 200m in World Athletics at Osaka, Japan in August. He has the distinction of breaking Donald Quarrie’s long-standing 19.75 200m record for the National title in June. This youngster who wears a puzzled look and makes the sign of the cross before a race, is one to watch. The Trelawny Chamber of Commerce plans to honour him and Veronica Campbell who both hail from the ‘yellow yam parish’. The latter as reigning 2004 Olympic 200m champion, this year won the Women’s 100m final at the 11th IAAF World Athletics Championships on September 1 for the gold.

St. Jago’s Yohan Blake became Champion Athlete at the ISSA/Grace Kennedy Boys’ Championships which is known to supply fodder to the prestigious Penn Relays. In his first year in Class 1 took 4 gold medals in 3 records as follows: 100m10.21seconds, double winner intervals, 4x100m 10.21seconds, 100m 39.09 seconds, and Open 4x400m 3.09.51 seconds.

When disgraced sprinter Marion Jones is stripped of the medals won in Sydney in 2000, Jamaica will move up in order of medals as the International Olympic Committee decides. So Tayna Lawrence could move up to silver from the bronze medal she received for the 100m, Merlene Ottey who came fourth in the 100m will get the deserved bronze, while Beverly McDonald placing fourth in the 200m should get a bronze medal.

The Jamaica Football Federation
The JFF welcomed back Captain Horace Burrell unopposed to the presidency at a special voting congress which took place outside of Kingston on November 4 by 110 delegates and several observers. He replaced Mr. Crenston Boxhill, who with seemingly desperate dignity had led the team for four years. Despite winning the Digicel Caribbean Cup and a silver medal at the Pan Am games, football in Jamaica failed to make finals at senior, under-20 and under-17 levels. It says a lot that of the Boxhill-led administration, only long-serving Trelawny FA president and current second vice-president Linnel McLean sought re-election. No kudos have so far been thrown at Mr. Boxhill by a thankless public. The unflappable Burrell quickly dispensed with the short, colourless regime of a Bora and re-hired the more colourful Simoes who put the Boyz on the map in order to kick-start training for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, outrageous salary in US dollars notwithstanding. Ex-RB Theodore ‘Tappa’ Whitmore was called to report at ‘The Office’ as national coach, with the respected Bradley Stewart as runner-up.

In other matters, Horace Burrell launched in October his new Bill Jet Ranger luxury helicopter airlift service operating out of Kingston. Starting with one in a fleet of three slated for local commercial and training school services, it was expected that by December a second helicopter would begin the training of pilots.

Rising Stars
This American-style stage competition sponsored by the imported Digicel cellular phone giant is in its third year of operation after successfully launching a search for outstanding youthful talent among Jamaicans. The public is encouraged to vote via text messages in addition to the assessment by three-time judges, singer Nadine Sutherland, entrepreneur Anthony Miller and musician Clive Johnson. Prizes have been enticing and include contracts with established producing companies. This year for the first time the prizes included a trip to Curacao where the three finalists were also given a chance to perform. The close call on the final three competitors produced once again a young male winner in the person of Odain Virgo spawned out of another competition, the highly touted ‘Altogether Sing’ involving secondary schools choirs. Initial winner Chris Martin was a 19-year-old sixth former hailing from top rural school St. Jago High.

Last year’s winners the trio One Third, though not from that pool, was given pride of place on the island’s stages this year. As a well deserved change for male positivity in Jamaica let us be glad that THE BOYS HAVE IT,YEAH !

Shooting Stars
Two songs written, performed and immortalised by Bob Marley and the Wailers were accepted into the Anglican collection of hymns. This unprecedented act, for Reggae music to have made a breakthrough into such a historically and conservatively religious enclave, is being hailed as a victory for local culture and the Performing Arts.

On a less positive note, Verizon Wireless, a carrier for Universal Music in Los Angeles which owns the distribution licence for Marley’s music, was accused of using the singer’s voice over ring tones on their commercial line of mobile phones without permission. This involved popular tunes ‘I Shot the Sheriff’ and ‘Redemption Song’ .

As a result both entities have been accused of ‘circumvention’ by Chris Blackwell, long time consultant to the family.

In other news, two Jamaican entrepreneurs, brothers who have been doing exhaustive work on Bunny Wailer, are now set to launch their findings in a documentary film; while Andrew Tosh, son of Peter, who has been carrying the stage flag for his father, reunited publicly with his father’s European son .

Starring Roles
Beauty Queens wrote new pages in the history of the island’s legendary contribution to international beauty. Zahra Redwood became the first dreadlocks Rasta queen by putting paid to the stereotypes of total immersion in the weed of wisdom, reggae, and beauty pageants as degrading to women. The classic beauty holding a University degree in biotechnology and zoology was a finalist in the Miss Universe contest in Mexico City in May.

Lisa Hanna, Miss World 1993 entered the political arena with panache and drama when she defied critics, soothsayers and nay-sayers by winning the controversial S.E. St. Ann seat long nurtured by the inimitable piano-playing Seymour ‘Foggy’ Mullings and which the PNP was in danger of losing. It is of interest that the seat had slipped from the fingers of Aloun Assamba out of the Tourism camp, and that her former husband David Panton had been no less than President of the rival JLP’S youth arm Generation 2000.

The sprightly doe-eyed Miss Jamaica World 2007 Yendi Phillips took the Jamaican flag to China. She was widely touted as deserving to be in the top 5 because of winning 3 of 4 mini local competitions which fast track contestants to the top 10.

And top model turned joint manager of Pulse International Romae Gordon has managed to remain at the top of this most successful model Agency in the Caribbean. The staging of Caribbean Fashion Week (CFW) and Caribbean Model Search (male and female) with mogul Kingsley Cooper and social guru Chester Francis Jackson has become legendary since becoming a feeding ground for international agencies. A Reality Show segment was added this year.

The Port Royal Earthquake of 100 years ago on January 14, 1907 that swallowed a large portion of Port Royal had also shaken Kingston to the ground, and that helps to explain why some buildings in the capital are not as old as those of other cities in the New World which have also weathered three centuries. Kingston, which has now achieved the ripe old age of 315 years actually became the capital city 65 years after The Great Earthquake of 1692 when Port Royal dwellers were forced to relocate there. It should be of note, as pointed out by Gleaner contributor Burke, that the significant 1957 quake, although nothing like previous ones, might really have been a tsunami.

Northern Caribbean University in Mandeville celebrated 100 years which have been described as ‘illustrious’ by main stakeholders the West Indies Union Conference of Seventh Day Adventists. At the main centennial celebration in the Hiram S. Walters Resource Centre on the main campus (Campus 2 is located on Half Way Tree Road in Kingston), both President Dr. Hubert Thompson and Chairman Dr. Patrick Allen paid tribute to its pioneers, its administrators and students. They noted its “progression to notability” and its “substantive contribution” to Jamaica, the Caribbean and the World.

World Leader of the organisation also visited the island in October, his focus being the Youth in the Caribbean.

The Church of God in Jamaica also celebrated its centenary, having been started by American missionaries Reverend George and Nellie Olson in July 1907. Commemorative events took place, and rightly so, at Olson Hall in the high performing and popular Ardenne High School, founded by Mrs. Olson. Outstanding efforts by the pair, though tinged with post-earthquake difficulties, resulted in the establishment of several churches around the island, first of which was on Higholborn Street in downtown Kingston.

The Education sector pursued its usual moderate pace, with focus on institutional strengthening, safe school programming, new curriculum for early childhood, primary literacy tests and teacher upgrading. Significant changes involved the passing of the administrative baton to a new minister in the person of young Andrew Holness who took over from Maxine Henry-Wilson. His burden will not however be light, given the pitfalls into which other young male ministers before him, namely Colin Campbell, Phillip Paulwell and Kern Spencer have allowed themselves to fall so early in their career. Hurricane Dean also destroyed over 300 schools leaving the Ministry with a J$700m repair bill. To buttress the shortfall created by an unplanned exemption from school fees at the secondary level was another herculean task. Parents who had paid their children’s fees were promised refunds in short shrift but this was honoured more in the breach. In the run-up to end of term, the new minister has been hard put to formulate the Rhetoric of Refund. New additions to his staff are special advisor Ruel Reid and consultant Alphansus Davis.

The unprecedented Licensing of Teachers was another controversial issue arising from the proposed Education Transformation Process which has been on the table since 2003. It called on the opinion of expected stakeholders such as the Jamaica Association of Principals of Secondary Schools (JAPSS); the National PTA of Jamaica; the Jamaica Association of Principals and Vice Principals; the Jamaica Teachers Association (JTA) and overseers of the Child Care and Protection Act. Most representatives agreed in principle while enunciating a concern that everything operates within the ambit of the Law. The Minister pronounced assurances to enhance the ‘profile’ of the profession, to give teachers a chance to reap their own educational ‘currency’, and not least, to safeguard children placed under their protection. He added the political mantra – to serve the interest of the country, and acknowledged that although only a ‘very small’ number of teachers in Jamaica pose a threat to children’s safety, the island has ‘not been immune to certain scenarios which have wracked the classroom and teaching profession overseas’.

On-going work on the existing Code of Ethics and a national policy on violence in schools aim to put in place more professional standards and a wider mechanism for disciplining perpetrators.


Bill Gates Scholarship
Shauna-Lee Chai, science officer with the Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust (JCDT), was recently awarded the prestigious Bill and Melinda Gates foundation Scholarship to pursue doctoral studies at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom.

Ms. Chai holds a Master of Science Degree in Environmental Management (specialising in biological approaches) from the University of the West Indies (UWI), has worked with the JCDT for close to four years, and is the second Jamaican to receive this international scholarship, according to The Sunday Observer September 16, Section 4 p.11.

The Grace Kennedy Jamaica Birthright Internship Programme
This has been an extremely innovative programme that seeks to provide opportunities to third-generation scholars of Jamaican roots living abroad to feel the ‘heartbeat’ of the island firsthand. University students domiciled in Canada, the UK and USA are interned within the Group for two months each year. Started in 2004, the exercise makes sure that students are mentored by executives and day-to-day workers alike as they participate in and out of the workplace. Some of the activities touch on community outreach projects such as continuing the help given to slow learners from the inner city; exposure to legal, commercial, cultural and familial traditions and social practices. These include taking part in an annual computer camp, visits to popular entertainment and vacation spots to strengthen bond and overthrow any stigma carried over from foreign lifestyles. Feedback from articles they have written and reasons given for wishing to participate are: bonding with grandparents, observing how locals survive on the little they have, and ‘just to connect’.

Participants this year hailed from Toronto, Philadelphia, New York, England. Harvard University featured as an inspired participant.

Prince Charles Foundation for the Built Environment
Rose Town, an inner city community in West Kingston, has been targeted by the Prince for ongoing upliftment and revitalisation in what Dianne Abbott saw as a ‘visionary’ scheme. As in other efforts by his father Prince Philip, the Prince places accent not only on the physical aspects such as low-cost housing but on a better lifestyle. Writing in The Observer in October, Miss Abbott as a contributing journalist from England is strategically placed to comment on the fact that the Implementation Plan is on stream. The Kingston Restoration Company (KRC) she said, is involved in staffing the project and will liaise with Government agencies in matters related to land acquisition and usage.

Jamaica Education Initiative (JEI)
National Commercial Bank has pledged 1% of all Keycard purchases to the tune of $J15m to the project. From its Hurricane Relief Effort it funded repairs at the May Day High School in Manchester, the ADHD programme for hyperactive children at the McCam Child Care and Development Centre, The Auditorium and library at Munro College in St. Elizabeth and the famous Kingston College Chapel. To this end, the counterpart of the latter, the prestigious Christ Church Cathedral Choir of Oxford England, under the baton of Dr. Stephen Darlington recently visited and performed with the reknown KC Boys Choir. Proceeds go to help repair the historic Chapel in memory of Archbishop Percival Gibson who founded the school. NCB was joined by The Jamaica National Building Society in support of this worthwhile effort.

E-Learning (e-LJam 2007)
Also in the pipeline is an e-learning Project to provide Technology Integration, Training and Certification to teachers in the Secondary School System which is being implemented by an agency of the Ministry of Energy, Mining and Telecommunications and a limited liability company called e-Learning Jamaica Company Limited in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Youth.

New Principals
There are new Principals for UWI, Mona, and University of Technology at Papine. Well known expert in the study of diabetes Dr. Errol Morrison took over the reigns at UTECH at the retirement of Dr. Rae Davis.

Professor Gordon Shirley assumed office as pro Vice Chancellor and Principal of the University of the West Indies with the appointment becoming official on August 1. Shirley is the son of past Principal of The Mico ( which is now a University College under Claude Packer), the late Renford Shirley and his wife Jessie, formerly of Wolmers Girls High School. Young Shirley has carved for himself a distinguished career as a diplomat, educator, and administrator in higher education. A former student at the UWI St. Augustine, he graduated with a BSc. in Engineering in 1977. In 1982 received a Master of Business Administration in Operations and Finance and five years later a Doctorate in Business Administration and Operations Management, both from Harvard University, USA.

The University this year introduced a new degree- B.A. in cultural enterprise management.

UNIMEDICS is the name given to a new modular computer software designed to take the hassle out of medical records management and to lead to a revolutionised public health care. This ‘core version’ set at a cost of 11 million, is being positioned by the developers in a ‘user-friendly, intuitive, and comprehensive’ niche. They claim it will ‘authenticate’ the provider, track the treatment of the 18 most prevalent diseases targeted by Jamaica’s National Health Fund (NHF), and send reminders and prescriptions by e-mail. Commissioned by the NHF it is poised to make Jamaica ‘unique’ in terms of a medical database for medical and ambulatory service, existing and future beneficiaries who must agree to sign up and be equipped with swipe cards. It should conform to international standards. Developed in partnership with a National Telemedicine Research Project, it will eventually provide login access from home and lab as well as outsourcing of tests for analysis. The National Health Records System as a statutory registration body will be able to build on over 300,000 existing, and to be buttressed by an e-pharmacy. An outstanding asset is that there is no need to ‘retrofit’ from more advanced Western products for developing local markets.

Jamaica’s national oil import bill for this year is in excess of 2billion US dollars with peak demand standing at 626 MW in June and expected to grow annually by 3+ percentage points. The electricity sector which alone relies on oil for 95% generation is in need o upgrading, diversification and expansion. The relevant Minister while acknowledging the task ahead cannot overlook work already done on the ‘renewable’ energy capacity of wind and hydro-electricity, the huge possibilities of bio-fuels, energy from waste and more importantly, ethanol as an additive in gasoline (e10 blend). Energy watchers are pointing at the advantages of net metering in order to have enough to sell back to the national grid, with a watchful eye on new ownership, possibly Marubeni of Japan for that possibility. Attention is drawn to a new facility (120 mega) at Hunt’s Bay which already experiments with petroleum by-products. Consensus? Diversify!

(Source- The Sunday Observer Nov. 25 p .14).

About the author

Cordella Lewis